The End Of Literacy, Or The Beginning Of A New Era?

shakespeare-on-facebook

“The wheel is come full circle.”
—William Shakespeare

If Shakespeare were alive today, what do you think he’d have to say about today’s literacy? All of these LOLs and OMGs, hashtags and 140 character snippets. He’d think we’ve all gone mad, turned back into cavemen—this is certainly not prose! Or would he happily join Facebook? Would he have a point? Have we regressed, or has our literacy just evolved?

While today’s “prose” might shock Shakespeare, I’m sure he’d be just as freaked about literacy in the 1700’s, or even 1800’s. Times change and so does our language. OMG deal with it.

I did pretty well for myself back in school when it came to writing. I knew the basic essay style—“intro, 3 body paragraphs, conclusion” structure. I even wrote with pen on paper! The only writing influences I had were from the books like My Name is Asher Lev (great book BTW) or Lord of the Flies. There was obviously some structure there.

Today’s youth are surrounded by a lot more outlets, so it’s easy to place the blame game on current writing styles. The internet, texting, social media—maybe all those video games that “kids these days” play instead of picking up a good book. Does anybody read these days? Yes, many do. It’s more about what they’re reading.

Paperback books are still being read (don’t worry), even though more are opting for e-books instead. But thanks to the internet and social media, there’s a lot more sources of reading material, and the writing style is not going to be long and drawn out.

We’re all busy! We have short attention spans. Who’s got time to sit and read 2,000+ words? Think 140 characters is not enough? Maybe it’s too many! I read headlines, skim excerpts. If I click the full article and can’t make it through the first few lines, I’m gone.

Schools can teach grammar all they want. Those lessons are easily outmatched by the countless hours spent with phrases like “Hey, txt me l8r”. You know, since it takes too long to type in that pesky vowel. Bonus points for using a number that sounds the same as some letters.

PixelSpoke Readability Tool recommends web copy aimed at consumers to be at a grade 5 level—or lower. Copy aimed at businesses at least gets a grade 8 minimum benchmark. Trust me that sounds worse than it actually is. Try reading something on the web that’s at a grade 12 or above level (there’s a lot). I bet you wouldn’t make it past the first paragraph.

What does that say about today’s literacy? Are we too stupid for old school prose? Is it a dying breed, or is literacy just evolving to meet the needs of today’s world?

Scott Cornell

When he’s not knee deep in blogging and all things tech, Scott spends his free time playing ultimate Frisbee and watching foreign films. An expert in emerging tech trends, Scott always has his ear to ground for breaking news related to IT security.